I have been a stranger many times.
When traveling to another country, moving to a different city, meeting the family of friends for the first time. Sometimes you could tell by my look that I am from the ‘outside’ or by my behavior (slightly nervous, not knowing what to say or when to say what). It feels uncomfortable; I felt uncomfortable. However, it has always been a choice. I have always made the choice to travel there, move there, meet this family. And I have always been lucky, because I was always welcomed. To my surprise mentioning my German nationality actually even makes people look at me in a different way – in a more positive way (as luckily I am not blamed for what happened during the Nazi regime 40 years before I was born).
Many people are not as lucky. Their nationality isn’t connected with positive stereotypes – for some reason, most people love beer and cars… And most importantly, many people don’t have a choice; they don’t ‘travel’ to another country, they have to leave. And suddenly everything that only used to happen on TV, far far away is pretty close to home now.
And people here feel uncomfortable about it. Why?
Because it is easier not to listen to their stories and only to talk about your own situation.
Because when putting aside all these cruel and tragic images they can’t ruin your day.
Because being able to pinpoint ‘the evil’ is comfortable.
Because getting to know something and someone new requires patience and word.
Because fear of the unknown builds walls; alongside borders and in people’s minds.
All these slogans “they steal our work”, “they just want our money”, “they don’t fit into our traditional family concept” boil down to: “they are not like us”. Or better: they are not like me. Because surprisingly, the ‘us’ only becomes popular in times of transformation. Suddenly me and my neighbor are all the same.
They are not like me.
And I think, thank goodness! Because why should they? And how could they?
We only know the way of thinking, the norms of acting which we have been surrounded by in family, at schools, in society. It takes courage to step outside these circles, investigating yourself and reflecting – critically – your beliefs and values.
Fear of the unknown.
But what happened to curiosity? Why do so many automatically assume that the unknown is bad?